Dear Mary

Dear Mary: How do I handle my lockdown guest’s lack of table manners?

2 May 2020

9:00 AM

2 May 2020

9:00 AM

Q. I am being driven to distraction by a touchy relation who has responded to the lockdown by WhatsApping me three or four times per day with a succession of YouTube and other video clips, accompanied by messages such as ‘You’ll love this!’ If only that were the case. None of the often lengthy video clips are particularly interesting or entertaining, yet I feel obliged to open them, not least because WhatsApp allows her to see whether or not I have done so. The arrival of each new message from her fills me with dread and exhaustion. How can I stop her from continuing to bombard me without hurting her feelings?
— Name and address withheld

A. She cannot tell if you have muted the clips, so why not turn these interruptions to your advantage? Press play and then mute and, while they are running, use the time to tackle a chore you have been procrastinating over. By repurposing the app into a virtual personal life coach, you will soon come to conflate the arrival of the clips with pleasure.


Q. My quality of life has plummeted since the arrival of an extra guest who has joined us for lockdown. It’s the way he eats (like a dog). He is the contemporary of my boomerang children, who just say: ‘Table manners aren’t a thing any more.’ Meanwhile, my husband says I must try not to be so sensitive, because he is our guest and we must not under any circumstances take the risk of making him feel unwelcome. I agree with this and I like the young man — until we sit down. How can I deal with this?
— Name and address withheld

A. It should be an easy matter to screen this offender off by placing a large vase of flowers between you and him at the table. Make sure your children are in on the ploy so they do not make the mistake of moving them on the grounds that no one can see you.

Q. My father and aunt live in a friendly village where they know most of their neighbours and also the local farmers and people who come to tend to horses in nearby fields. Because they grew up in an era of imperial measurements, they seem unable to visualise a two-metre distance correctly. They are constantly going too close to these people in the lanes and in the fields. I have managed to re-educate them by coming up with the concept of a new yardstick of measurement — namely a ‘Rees-Mogg’. By visualising the Member for the l8th Century sprawling across the benches in the Commons, they can now understand to what extent they should keep their distance. I thought that other readers might find this tip useful.
— O.B., Oxford

A. Thank you for sharing this vignette and the neologism you have coined to clarify the concept to imperial-age Britons.

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